Olinka Broadfoot returns to Vyšehrad
A Czech-American artist summarizes her earliest memories and a period of her exploration of new materials
Posted: August 21, 2013
Galerie Vyšehrad, which occupies the remains of a medieval watchtower, will host exhibition with the symbolic title "Návrat" (Returning), featuring works from an artist with very strong ties to the place, Olinka Broadfoot.
Reminiscing on the historical importance of the place, Broadfood's longtime friend and collector, Josef Donát, who is going to present her at the Aug. 20 opening, said: "What other place could a person, after over 50 years of living abroad, return to - even though symbolically?"
But to Broadfoot, the place is significant for more sentimental reasons. In 1944, she was born right below Vyšehrad, in the Nusle neighborhood, and this place stayed in her childhood memories through all the years that she mostly spent away from Prague. Her family left the city in 1948, after her father endured several months at the concentration camp in Terezín. After eight years in Argentina, her family - her maiden name was Horvat - moved to the United States in 1956. She did not return to Prague until 1994.
For this show, Broadfoot recently painted several of her early memories. "My strongest memory is of the steps leading up here, which on one of our walks were covered by ladybugs," she said.
When: Opening Aug. 20 at 6; runs to Sept. 15
Where: Galerie Vyšehrad, in the park at Vyšehrad above Libuše's Bath
Tickets: 20 Kč
Right next to that memory, Broadfoot places a morbid one, depicting the hanged men down the road where her mother pushed a carriage with a 1-year-old Olinka, in 1945. "I thought these guys were dolls, and I wanted them," she said.
While most of the paintings for "Návrat" deal with the leitmotif of memory, her sculptures are more involved with her most recent past and present.
All of the sculptures in the exhibition have been created by Broadfoot in the Czech Republic, using materials she had never worked with before.
After 1994, Broadfoot stayed in her homeland till 2000, before going back to Oregon. The turning point for the new period in her artwork was a symposium held at a Tondach brick and roofing tile factory in Dolní Jirčany, central Bohemia, in 1999, where she tried to conquer brick for the first time.
"The material defeated me," Broadfoot said. It took her three years to learn how to master brick, which turned out to be very different from clay. "It is not quite as plastic. I needed to think of it as an architectural material - you can do it, if you think of it as a house," she said.
Looking at Storyteller, a woman's bust, it is hard to believe it was hammered out from bricks - unless you see several of them showing underneath, which Broadfoot intentionally left visible - so striking is the contrast between the plasticity of the texture of the piece and its expressiveness with the unexciting rectangular nature of a brick.
Once she found her technique, Broadfoot started to use brick for something quite original: creating whole figures out of it. In 2002, she got a piece of land in Dolní Jirčany, which she turned into a sculpture park with 17 large-scale pieces by 2006.
When the Tondach factory of Dolní Jirčany closed down, another one opened its doors to Broadfoot. It is the third summer she has been spending at the Tondach factory in Stod, a town near Plzeň.
Broadfoot has always been in favor of working fast. "The faster you do it, the better it is," she said. But with her new setup at the factory she has not had much choice regarding the pace of the working process; it simply had to be fast.
She now also works with roofing tile materials and other leftovers from the manufacturing process. All of these require quick work and cannot stay wet for a long time or they fall apart. Broadfoot enjoys this immediacy. "This way it is more real. There are no lies involved, because you don't have time," she said.
She also sees sculpture as a more alive and breathing art. "Sculpture is more real in a way; it occupies space; it lives some life. With paintings, it is a trick. I want to go behind it, and I can't - so I do it as plastic as I can," she said. Many of her paintings use the plaster that is used for molds at the factory.
This year she misses the opportunity to descend into the id of sculpture: The factory is closed over the summer, and she can neither create new sculptures nor teach her annual workshop. Broadfoot is left alone with the space, and she uses all her time for painting, which she finds emotionally challenging, as she feels the need to alternate between painting and carving.
"Návrat" comes as a summary of the time spent in Stod, with the new materials, on a new journey of self-discovery in the land that Broadfoot knew from memory.
One piece in particular represents her show: Self-portrait, one of her paintings. There are three eyes you can see on the picture, one of them outside the face. "I have a feeling that the third eye is the key to being in this world, and it has to be outside of you. Hopefully, I have some capacity for that," Broadfoot said.
Natasha Kirshina can be reached at